While the traditional time of year to give out eggs of the chocolate kind has already passed on this years trip around the sun, there is never a bad time to share eggs of the secret kind. For those who don’t know, ‘easter eggs’ is a term used to describe little nuggets of obscure information, inside jokes and references to pop culture, often hidden away in games and films that are usually missed upon first viewing. Once noticed however, they will make you feel like part of a secret club and you’ll feel compelled to share them. Pretty much like I’m doing right now. So let’s take a look at some of the easter eggs that your favourite board games have tucked away amongst the meeples and the chits inside their boxes.
‘Speculation’ is a title by Queen Games where you manipulate your country’s economy by gaming the system in order to earn a tidy profit, regardless of where it comes from, probably the poor people... I’m kidding! I think so anyway. What it really is is a game where you play the stock market, trying to become the richest player by the end of the game. You will mainly play with a hand of cards, all of which bear the names of fictional companies you can trade in. However, one of these companies has a very familiar name, especially if you have played one of the publishers more recent offerings.
The company name in question is the Alhambra Mining Company, which is either a massive coincidence, or is intentionally linked to the game ‘Alhambra’ released in 2003. It seems that this occurrence only came about however after the former game's reprint in 2013, so this little nod towards its sibling came about fairly recently. What conclusions can we draw from this? Nothing really, they seem linked by name only, though I like to imagine Alhambra went on to become a widely known city, which spawned many successful businesses like the mining company, though that’s just my insane imagination. But that’s not the only example of this self referencing behaviour.
In Castles of Mad King Ludwig for example, you can spot a copy of Suburbia on the drawing room table tile, which is one of the publishers previous games. The makers of Machi Koro, the city building game, added a creature from one of its other games ‘Diamonster’ to a card in the deluxe edition. The imps in worker placement game Dungeon Petz are seen playing the ‘prequel’ Dungeon Lords. Additionally, if you’ve played the game Agricola, and you have a keen eye, you’ll probably have spotted some of the tiles have a game in progress on them. That game? Bohnanza, which happens to be designed by Uwe Rosenberg, the man responsible for both games. But that’s not the weirdest bit; on another tile, you can see Agricola itself; so that’s Agricola being played within Agricola. What we don’t know is whether that copy also has a copy of Agricola being played on it. I mean how deep does it go? Talk about meta-gaming!
That’s Not Supposed To Be There
Some artists are cheeky; for example, if you check the ‘Zombie’ card from the game Cosmic Encounter, you’ll find the unfortunate skeleton of the ‘Loser’ alien, poor thing. Nowhere illustrates this best though (pun completely and utterly intended) than Jaipur. To explain, first put your school uniform on, because it’s time for a history lesson.
Back in the day, 2009 to be precise, two designers each released a game featuring a cute creature as a major part of its gameplay. The first of these designers is Sébastien Pauchon, who came up with the aforementioned Jaipur, a game in which you trade goods and camels to get the most money, all so you can get yourself an exclusive invite to the Maharaja’s court, where I imagine big buckets of jelly and ice cream await. The second creator is Michael Schacht, who came up with Zooloretto, a game in which you race to fill up your own zoo before your opponent does, which stars a giant panda on its box cover that you couldn’t miss even if you were as lazy as one.
While there was a rivalry between these men, it was considerably friendly. However, Sébastien took this to the next level with a cheeky addition to his own game, courtesy of the numerous comparisons at the time between the two games. This is why, if you look carefully, one of the camel cards in each pack contains a subtle addition. See if you can spot it.
That’s right. Sébastien added a panda pelt to one of the camels loads, which is a bit harsh. However, if Michael thought to respond to this with his own easter egg, we’ve yet to see it, but I guess we will keep our eyes peeled for. say, a camel toe in his next game.
Games = Games
I think it’s fair to say there's a remarkable overlap in those who are board gamers and those who are video gamers (which I’ll go into in a little more detail in another article) The proof of this is the number of video game related references you’ll find in board games. One of the less subtle examples on this list is Boss Monster and it’s numbered sequel/expansion, who go so far as to pixelate popular gaming franchise characters and plaster them on the very cards you use in the game. There are many examples of this, including Ezio, a character you play in the hugely popular series ‘Assassin’s Creed’ franchise (pictured below) as well as references to Super Mario Bros, Castlevania, Ghost N Goblins, Bomberman, etc. The box itself is even an homage to retro console games, and there’s also a cheeky reference to a well known fantasy author too. The list is very long indeed!
However, it’s not just video games who get enough winks to fill An Audience With Des O’Connor. You’ll also spot pop culture pointers in Terror In Meeple City (or Rampage if you’re playing in the US), a game all about destruction but whose board is jam packed with references from all manner of mediums. Among them, you’ll find Captain America’s shield, a ninja turtle poking out of a sewer, a companion cube (along with a crowbar next to some crabs), a poke ball and a bat signal. I won’t spoil them all for you, but I apologise in advance to your friends, because the next time you play it they'll wonder just why your turns are taking so damn long...
Essen? It’s That Way
This one’s a popular one. The game Pandemic (in which you and your friends play cooperatively as a team of science type folk trying to prevent deadly diseases from spreading around the globe) has a world map as its game board. The cities you can travel between contain many familiar and expected locations e.g New York, Johannesburg, Tokyo. However, there is one spot in Germany that seems a little out of place. That would be Essen. Don’t recognise it? Well you should, it happens to be the centre of the board gaming world, for every year the famous games expo Spiel is held there, often premiering many new and soon to be best selling games.
It’s so infamous in fact, that they’re not the only game to have featured the location, for the deck building game Dominion also pays its own homage to the city by having it sign posted in one of the games many card illustrations. Ticket To Ride also unsurprisingly contains the city in its European iteration. A nice nod to where it probably all began with many of these games publishers, and certainly the reason they’ve not yet featured my home city of Swansea on any game to date.
I Recognise You...
Do you remember those books from your childhood (or your adulthood, if you’re the late blossoming playful sort I suppose) where you are tasked with finding the guy with the red and white striped jumper and hat? Wally was his name, and hanging around people and objects who look like him was his game. While there is a Where’s Wally board game, a fact I only learned during the writing of this article, many board game designers have clearly been inspired by this man for a long time, as they’ve taken to hiding pictures of themselves in their own games, though very often you wouldn’t even know.
Take Friedemann Friese for example. He's a game designer whose most prominent features is his distinctively green hair. You’ll find him featured in a tonne of his own games, making this the least clandestine egg in the whole article. As the guy who popularised this idea though he still deserves a mention. Meanwhile, the game Poison, which features a maniacal man callously tossing liquids into a cauldron on the box cover, looks suspiciously like the designer Reiner Knizia, and Klaus Teuber, designer of one of the best selling games of all time (that’d be The Settlers of Catan) pops up on one of the cards in the two player card game called The Rivals for Catan. Perhaps a game in which you try to find creators hidden in their own board games could be the next big Essen hit?
The above list is by no means exhaustive, and you’ve probably come across many other games featuring little jokes on your own, so if that’s the case please do comment below as we’d love to hear more of them for a follow up article in the future. In the mean time, please check out the rest of the site for more Chits And Giggles!